In the midst of your search for a standing desk, you will realize that stability is one of your primary concerns. The notorious “wobble” is one of the biggest complaints people have after purchasing a standing desk, so it is important to understand the reasons why a sit to stand desk may have instability.
A Sturdy Base
Having a sturdy work surface helps prevent distractions and frustration, meaning a person’s overall productivity can be improved. Let’s think about this idea beyond the office setting; we’ve all been out at a restaurant and ended up sitting at a table that wiggles back and forth, and if you’re anything like me, it drives you crazy! It’s an annoyance and causes frustration, making it difficult to focus on enjoying your meal. Now, imagine that being your work surface and how that would impact your workday. That type of instability would cause difficulties for just about anyone.
All height adjustable desks are sturdiest in the lowest position, so if you never raise it, you won’t have any complaints, but that defeats the entire purpose of purchasing and owning a standing desk. I have good news for you, though! You don’t have to suffer from “standing desk wobble.” Some manufacturers make stable, adjustable workstations and products to purchase. The key is to know what to look for and make sure your purchase contains those features.
A table’s stability is rooted in its design. Height adjustable desks have two basic configurations or shapes. Figure 1 shows the Upside Down U. Figure 2 shows the Cross Support Design.
Upside Down U
This Upside Down U has a cross-brace bolted to the legs directly under the work surface, which creates the upside-down “U” (Figure 1). The U-style wobble prevention can only be done on the work surface. The higher you raise the table, the more movement there is in the leg.
Think of a flagpole in the wind: at the bottom there is not much movement. But, at the top, the pole sways back and forth.
That’s what happens to a standing desk that only has an under work surface cross support. Also with this U design, every screw needs to be very tight.
What is the benefit of the U style base if it doesn’t eliminate table wobble? Some companies say one advantage is the knee clearance and in the same breath say that the cross support design is a knee-knocker.
However, I believe that companies express those sentiments because U-style designs tables are easier on inventory control and packaging. A unique quality of the U-style designs is that the under work surface cross brace expands. This means that one brace extends to fit multiple work surfaces.
Since many of these U-style designs are manufactured in China, importing these tables is challenging. Most Chinese companies offer two braces with different extension ranges.
Cross Support Design
The other design that helps eliminate instability is the cross support style, shown in Figure 2. This style has a cross brace attached to the lower, non-moving leg columns creating the look of a box under the work surface. The cross support, although rectangular, works the same as an X-brace a bridge or building. Figure 3 depicts the placement of the four bolts that help to create the X-brace design.
The placement of the cross support minimizes any wiggle occurring while raising the desk. The design aims to eliminate lateral movement, thus creating a wobble-free desk in any height position. Unlike the U-style, the cross support design is built for a specific sized work surface.
Wobble has another source, and it comes from leg instability; I call this Column Overlap.
Within the leg column, a tube nests inside another tube. For example, let’s say each tube is 20-inches long, and the inner tube slides out 15 inches, leaving only five inches left within the outside tube. The extra five inches is column overlap.
In my opinion, those five inches are the minimum amount of overlap needed for a column to be considered sturdy (dependent on the glide tolerance). When overlap begins to decrease, the table may be more susceptible to wobble. This leads us to the next source of column instability: Glide Bearings.
All height adjustable tables have some glide bearing between the tubes inside the leg column. This helps the columns to slide against each other and create smooth movement. Glides come in different sizes to help adjust for tube size tolerance.
As the amount of overlap between the tubes decrease, the importance of correctly sized glide bearings increases. The glide bearings help maintain stability within the column when the table gets closer to its highest position. This is a single stage leg column.
Now having a general understanding of column overlap and the use of glide bearings on a single stage, I want to explain how those problems affect a two-stage leg column.
In a single stage, one tube nests within another. Whereas a two-stage leg column has three tubes nested together. In a single stage column, there’s movement between Tubes 1 and 2. However, in a two-stage, there is movement between Tubes 1 and 2, and Tubes 2 and 3.
There is a higher possibility of movement within the two-stage leg column due to the added third tube. However, some manufacturers offer a cross-support mounted on the two-stage similar to a single stage to help minimize additional wobble.
The assembly process is linked to the stability of a height adjustable table. Correct assembly minimizes table wobble. Height adjustable tables vary in the degree of assembly required. In most cases, more parts and pieces increase the chance for mistakes. Loose screws, or no screws, is a leading cause of table instability.
Another way to help prevent wobble is to apply thread locker material to the threads of all screws. Not all manufacturers provide thread locker material for their screws. If that’s the case, go to your local hardware store and buy the thread locker material. It is the thread locker material that helps to prevent future wiggle or looseness within the table base.
Typically, tables come with a small Allen wrench/Hex Wrench or toolset designed for table assembly, but you’re better off using your tools. The tools provided are small and won’t give you adequate leverage to fully tighten the screws during installation. Any loose screws result in movement within the table base.
If available, use a professional installer for your table assembly. By using their skill and tools, the likelihood of any table defects drops dramatically.
If you’re looking for a sturdy height adjustable desk, I recommend:
- Buying one with cross-support mounted to the base columns (Figure 2)
- A single-stage leg column
- Use screws with a thread locker
- Securely tighten all screws during assembly
These recommendations aside, sometimes a two-stage leg column may be a better fit for some. A two-stage goes lower than the standard 27-inch height and travels up to 48-inches, or even 51-inches depending on the manufacturer. So, if you are under 5’5”, above 6’5”, or your situation requires a more extensive travel range, the two-stage leg column is your best fit.
Next time you’re out for coffee or dinner, and you get that pesky, wobbly table, just remember you don’t have to put up with that while using your new height adjustable desk.
Created by: Camille Knighton
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